Saturday, October 30, 2010

Managing Gen Y

Gen-Ys started their careers by earning a generally bad reputation in the workplace. There have been countless reports of their sense of entitlement, unrealistic salary demands and inability to take criticism.
But time — and a recession that delivered a hefty reality check — has made businesses realize that the stereotypes and first impressions aren't always accurate. These workers born after 1980 can be worth their weight in gold.It just takes the right approach and an appreciation for what they have to offer.

In many cases, small businesses have a leg up when it comes to attracting and retaining these 20-somethings. The flexibility, the chance to socialize with their peers in a casual setting, direct contact with senior management — these are all things that appeal. More importantly, Gen-Ys come to the table with fresh ideas and advanced social networking skills, which is a huge plus for any rapidly growing business.

At Search Engine People (SEP) in Ajax, Ont., for example, Gen-Ys account for half of the 45 employees, says chief executive officer Jeff Quipp. "Given what we do, they naturally come with more experience with this stuff."Having that much of the core staff under the age of 30 does change the nature of the workplace, however. SEP has a games room and gym on site to allow staff to "burn off steam."

In fact, Quipp, himself a baby-boomer in his mid-40s, often goes in for a round of Ping-Pong. "We offer or facilitate a lot of [social] activities. After all, this is their social world."

Changing the workplace rules is worth it, he adds.
"For the most part, Gen-Ys are a pretty hungry bunch. They want to do well and see movement within a company. Fortunately, we're growing fast. We've just learned along the way that their 'buttons' are different. They don't have the same philosophy as older workers."

New tools of the trade

So what is it that really keeps Gen-Ys engaged?'Gen-Ys bring a lot of advantages to the workplace. They are confident and not afraid to ask why.'—Cheryl McConney-Wilson, Ryerson."Tools, toys and flexibility," says Krista Hiddema, co-founder of e2r Solutions, a human resources specialist in Toronto. "This generation is very tech-savvy, because they grew up with it. They prefer to communicate via text and be connected to their iPhone or BlackBerry 24/7. Our generation would have sacrificed something in our personal life for work. They won't."
She adds, "If you want to keep this talent pool close, you have to change your deliverables. [Open-mindedness] may make the difference between them staying or leaving."

Changing one's mindset is well worth the effort for employers, says Cheryl McConney-Wilson, human resources instructor at Ryerson's The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education in Toronto.
"Gen-Ys bring a lot of advantages to the workplace. They are confident and not afraid to ask why. They like to multitask and are always looking at what they can do next. And they are open to learning new things."Equally important is the fact that many have grown up exposed to a variety of cultures, and they have developed an appreciation for different learning styles and behaviours.

The flip side

Better yet, Gen-Ys actually want to work with small businesses.
David Pace, regional human resources manager for Home Depot Canada in Toronto, has observed that Gen-Ys continue to be high-energy people with high expectations and a say in how their career is being run. These are all qualities that work in a big chain like his, but which also work well for small business owners.
"They're strong, they're vocal and they're vociferous," he says. "They really want experience in the full spectrum of a business. Small manufacturing operations, software developers, gaming companies, advertising companies could easily keep them engaged, because they can allow them to learn a bunch of different areas."

Tips for managing Gen-Y workers

•Accept their priorities and work around them. Allow for flexible hours.

•Don't ban social media tools in the workplace. Instead, establish appropriate usage policies.

•Let them access and use the tech tools they're used to.

•Don't be afraid to text your employees.

•Ask their opinion.

•Provide immediate feedback on their performance.

•Create a socially conscious work environment.

•Encourage social activities.

•Don't be offended if they leave after two years and stay in touch. Odds are they will come back.

•Use training tools that resonate with them (online courses, webinars, etc.)

•Set up a formal and frequent feedback process.

•Clearly spell out your working environment, job expectations and accountability for deliverables.

Small businesses do hold a special appeal for Gen-Ys, confirms Adwoa K. Buahene, co-founder and managing partner with n-gen People Performance Inc., a Toronto-based management company focused on multigenerational leadership. "They like the flexibility and nimbleness that a smaller company can offer, and especially entrepreneurial companies, where they can have the freedom to succeed or fail."

The downside, however, is that despite their enthusiasm and talent, they're simply not equipped with an understanding of basic business etiquette and practices, she explains.

"Even meeting deadlines and other foundational skills can be a problem. Most small business owners bringing in a new entrant feel confident they will get the job done because they said they could. But often they need coaching and you need to check in on them often."
Despite their confidence, Gen-Ys also need a lot of encouragement, agrees Peter Carr, general manager of Flextrack for Procom Consultants Group Ltd. in Toronto, an IT staffing recruitment specialist."A manager must keep a Gen-Y employee feeling like what they do is important and show them their growth opportunities in order to retain and get the maximum benefit from them. These employees also want the freedom to work from home. In addition, a manager has to understand that being able to spend a few minutes a day logging into your bank account or updating your social network is necessary [to them]."

Quipp says that the one downside of all the social networking talents that come with Gen-Ys is the fact that it can sometimes work against you. "Someone tries to poach my staff every day. I guess it's up to us to keep them happy and engaged."

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